CREATED Mar 20, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - The cell phone feature is marketed as a way to help you find your smartphone if you lose it. But one smart user, a victim of a crime, used it to catch a group of men that now faces charges of armed robbery, assault and kidnapping.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department reported the armed men forced their way into a home northeast of Tucson Sunday night. The gunmen, investigators said, got away with thousands of dollars, legal medical marijuana, a handgun and a cell phone.
The department says one of the victims acted quickly after the gunmen left, visiting a Web site set up to track the location of that cell phone. He logged in and the GPS-like service used the cell phone network to pinpoint the location of the device.
“He was able to provide deputies specific information on where to locate the cell phone and gave a good description of the vehicle,” said Deputy Dawn Barkman, department spokeswoman. “That gave deputies exactly what they needed to locate the vehicle.” 9 On Your Side reporter Kevin Keen asked Barkman, half jokingly: “Could you have asked for anything more?” “No, it was perfect,” she replied.
Deputies soon took two of three suspects into custody. As of Tuesday afternoon, the third was still at large.
In this case, it was a victim who used this technology to help resolve a crime. 9 On Your Side wondered: Could law enforcement do the same? Could an agency ask a cell carrier to track a victim's phone? A suspect's?
The sheriff's department didn't immediately know. We asked cell carriers. AT&T wrote in a statement:
"AT&T works with law enforcement as required by law, and takes its obligation to assist law enforcement very seriously. We're also committed to protecting the privacy of customer data. In the case of a request from law enforcement to help locate a person in a criminal investigation, we require the receipt of a search warrant, court order or other legal process, as required by law. However, we also have established procedures for responding to requests to provide location information during emergency situations where a person is in imminent danger of death or serious physical injury."
In those cases, the company says a court document might not be necessary.
Either way, this technology creates new opportunities. Barkman said, “Technology improves every single day and, with that, it gives us better opportunities--more tools to work with victims and just increases our ability to solve cases."
Want to add a tracking feature to your smartphone? It can often be downloaded as an app. Some cell providers sell it as a service. It's best to ask your provider for your options.